ToW 16/09/23 – 22/09/23
Debt Collectors Chasing Dinner Money
Renfrewshire Council has contracted a firm of sheriff officers (who have power to seize property and raid homes) to obtain payment for outstanding dinner money debts. And Dundee City Council sent more than 15,000 warning letters to parents last year for the same reason.
Only pupils in P1-5 get free school meals, with the promise of free meals for P6-7 deferred yet again until at least 2026 (it was supposed to happen by 2022). SNP-run Renfrewshire said it tries to work with parents and resolve the problem, including signposting the parents to advice services, but ultimately admitted it tries to recover the debt through its ‘normal processes’. Renfrewshire also said they are reviewing their school meal debt policy and examining the possibility of writing off some of the debt. Dundee said it had created supports for families and that no child is ever denied a meal.
There is still no sign of a pilot project for free meals to secondary schools, but the Scottish government stated that councils have the power to make discretionary offers free school meals to families who would not normally be eligible but who are experiencing ‘financial hardship due to exceptional circumstances’.
Crumbling Highland School Buildings:
Highland Council has confirmed it will not be rebuilding a school for pupils with learning disabilities despite it being branded a disgrace, leaking in the rain, with unreliable heating, no disabled access in part of the school, no dedicated dining space and no medical room.
At a recent council meeting a downscaled capital funding programme was passed by the council which needs to cover a £127m budget deficit over the next four years. The new special needs school to replace St Clement’s in Dingwall would have cost £13 million. Two other schools, St Charleston Academy at Loch Ness and Parks Primary in Invergordon are also singled out, St Charleston having ‘holes in the room of the science class with mushrooms growing out of them’ and Parks Primary which will just not be rebuilt, having been destroyed by fire. Culloden Academy has 19 temporary classrooms, but no space to teach science or home economics.
Around 200 Highland schools are in need of major repairs, but only Tornagrain primary will be rebuilt as about £18m of the £22m cost will be funded by developers.
No Cops for crimes, but plenty for misgendering;
Despite having no officers available to investigate actual crimes in the north-east or invest in body-worn video, Police Scotland is setting up a new dedicated Hate Crime Investigation Unit in November to police the hated Hate Crime Act which will come into effect in January. It remains to be seen whether the new act will attempt to criminalise those upholding women’s single-sex spaces.
Meanwhile more than 7500 shoplifters have escaped prosecution, instead receiving Recorded Police Warnings (RPWs), part of 100,000 RPWs issued over the last five years, sometimes for sex offences. The Scottish Conservatives have accused the SNP of effectively decriminalising some offences ‘by stealth’.
In 2020-21, the latest year for which there is data, 6448 RPWs were issued for drug crimes, including possession of Class A drugs; nearly 2000 for common assaults, 318 for fraud, 25 for fire-raising and 20 for sex crimes.
Over the last 3 years, over 1500 domestic abusers were issued with ‘diversion from prosecution’ measures including warning letters and fines, although direct measures were meant to be only in exceptional cases.
Meanwhile in the North-East of Scotland 92% of theft by opening lockfast places (OLPs) remains ‘undetected’. This includes thefts from portable cabins, cashboxes, safes, non-static caravans or anything under lock and key.
A pilot scheme will see the North-East police area used as guinea pigs in an experiment to NOT investigate crimes like these if there is no cctv footage or forensic evidence.
Moness Resort bought up by DLC
In a shock move the Discovery Land Company has bought up the Moness Resort in Aberfeldy, adding to the land already acquired at Taymouth Castle and Glenlyon. Local residents have reported security guards patrolling the perimeter of properties already bought.
But it’s okay. DLC will be holding a public meeting soon to discuss the acquisition of Moness, Taymouth and Glenlyon.
The news appears to have blindsided not only local residents but also local MSP John Swinney, and local MP Pete Wishart. Swinney said he has assurances from DLC that the hotel will continue to operate as at present with no job losses. He and Wishart welcomed the news of a public meeting for DLC ‘to explain their plans to the community’, and warn DLC that there must be transparency about DLC’s intentions. Pete Wishart seems to think the meeting will reassure the public that ‘DLC are acting entirely in the interests of the local community’.
It is a little starry-eyed to suggest that DLC have come thousands of miles just to act in the interests of a rural Scottish community, or that ‘thorough and continuous engagement’ and ‘comprehensive plans’ will guarantee anything for the local community.
Unethical Scottish Power
have finally lost an epic battle with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) following a dispute which started in 2013 where they were found guilty of mis-selling domestic gas and electricity and poor customer service including giving false information to as many as 500,000 potential customers to get them to sign up. They were also guilty of excessive call-waiting times and late rebates.
Scottish Power (SP) made penalty payments of £28m but tried to claim a rebate of £6m on this amount and is still debating whether to further appeal the matter. It was agreed with Ofgem that this £28 million would go to customers, consumer groups and charities, but then claimed a rebate from HMRC, arguing that the money was compensation (which is not taxable) rather than penalties (which are taxable). At one stage Scottish Power were awarded £100,000 as a rebate, but later lost the case and with it lost this rebate.
Ofgem also warned Scottish Power to improve its standards when dealing with customers in debt, with the energy giant infamous in their pursuit of even small arrears. The firm got court orders over 24,000 times in 2022 to force the installation of pre-payment meters, the highest of any energy supplier.
can no longer be forced to have a pre-paid energy meter installed if they have no support in the house; nor can families with children under 2. The voluntary code of practice will be made mandatory for these groups and in cases not covered by this mandatory code, firms must prove to Ofgem that forced installation is a last resort.
Disabled Customers need a Social Tariff
The Scottish and UK governments are being urged to give more financial help for families with children or vulnerable adults who need expensive energy-guzzling equipment. Some families are being pushed into huge amounts of debt as a result. The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh is joining the voices of campaigners, as has CHAS hospice charity. They are calling for either direct government help or a social tariff to help them cope with high energy costs.
The Isle of Cumbrae
has become the latest green battleground over plans to instal 12,000 solar panels at the highest spot on the island, an area the size of 22 football pitches. North Ayrshire Council has already rejected the plan, but developers Comsol Energy, registered in Lanarkshire, have appealed to the Scottish government to overturn this ruling.
Locals point out the devastating effect such a big development will have on wildlife and island life. A quarter of the island’s population recently demonstrated against the development, but Comsol stated the chosen site is on poor grazing land and would have little impact on biodiversity, arguing there would be significant benefits, including community tariffs which could be delivered, and other community grants.
Fiona Hyslop refused to give any commitment to dualling the A96 within this decade. There have been 11 deaths and 82 serious injuries on this road between Inverness and Aberdeen in the last 4 years, making it the north-east’s most dangerous road, with 300 collisions in 7 years.
Work appears to have stalled thanks to the SNP’s deal with the Scottish Greens, who are also against expanding the A9.
The trams inquiry has uncovered a ‘litany of avoidable failures’ which had a significant …. lasting impact on residents’ lives and Edinburgh’s reputation. Major delays and cost overruns mean it ended up nearly £232 million over budget, with the Newhaven extension only opening fully earlier this year, 12 years late. The airport line to York Place was 3 years late in 2014, and the whole project cost nearly £836 million.
The inquiry blamed poor management and a significant abdication of responsibility, and includes 24 recommendations for Scottish ministers. It even suggests new legislation to allow for civil and criminal sanctions against persons or companies who knowingly supplied false reports and statements to councillors.
The cost overrun happened among other things because trams funds were allocated elsewhere and the borrowing costs to complete the project were omitted from costs, as was a significant claim from a landowner.
The two ferries being built in Turkiye are now well ahead of their expected completion, and may take only a third of the time of those being built in Scotland.
Meanwhile an ‘all[ ]encompassing review’ has been promised by Transport Scotland into the awarding of the contract to Ferguson Marine.
The Phantom Tree Feller
of Teucheen Wood in Renfrewshire is causing consternation among locals. Sycamores are being damaged by industrial machinery, with holes gouged in the trunks and poisons injected. This comes months after other trees were apparently hacked by chainsaw.
The trees stand on a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation on the site of the Battle of Renfrew of 1164, when 15,000 men fighting for Norse-Gaelic lord Somerled were defeated by King Malcolm.
Thanks to a Renfrewshire Council Tree Preservation Order it is an offence to fell or carry out work on the trees without permission, but Renfrewshire Council advise the landowner to contact police.